Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pelham Becomes Enthralled with the New-Fangled Entertainment Medium of Radio

By the time of the Roaring Twenties, the medium of "wireless telegraphy" had evolved into the broadcast entertainment medium we know as radio.  Between about 1919 and the early 1920s, crystal radio sets were beginning to gain attention and the infant audio broadcasting industry was born.  Crude battery-powered radios came into use.  

During the mid-1920s, amplifying "vacuum tubes" revolutionized radio receivers and transmitters in the United States.  Licensed commercial radio stations were beginning to pop up across the country.  AM radio stations such as KDKA in Pittsburgh began broadcasting to the public.  (KDKA's first broadcast reported the presidential election results on November 2, 1920.)  Early stations in the Pelham area included 2ZK, broadcasting from New Rochelle.  

By the mid-1920s, the Town of Pelham hungered for the new entertainment medium.  Some residents of the affluent little Town owned radios, but the Town was in the middle of a radio "dead spot" that deprived its citizens of the music and entertainment programs that they longed to hear.  That began to change in 1927.

That year, the local newspaper excitedly reported that increased power in local broadcasting stations was beginning to provide radio coverage throughout Pelham.  Pelhamites quickly fell in love with a local AM radio station (FM had not yet been invented) known as WEAF, a now-defunct predecessor to WNBC.  WEAF signed on for the first time on March 2, 1922.  It is considered the first commercial radio station that broadcast in the New York Metropolitan area.  The same year, the station broadcast what it later claimed to be the first radio advertisement.  In 1926, WEAF was purchased by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), making it a so-called "sister station" to WJZ (now WABC).  RCA next formed the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) which began operating the two radio stations. 

A lengthy article about improved radio reception appeared in the December 16, 1927 issue of The Pelham Sun.  It provides a fascinatingly-quaint window into the lives of Pelham citizens at the dawn of the new broadcast medium in our little town.  The article is quoted in its entirety below, followed by a citation to its source.

"Reception Improvements Assure The Pelhams Of A Merry Radio Christmas
Many Epochial [sic] Achievements Of Radio During the Last Year Will Provide Pelhamites With Best Of Entertainment Over Ether Waves.  No Longer Is Pelham Submerged In Dead Spot
By Morrel T. Crawford

This surely ought to be a very Merry Radio Christmas for the Pelhams.  Never before in the radio history of Pelham, has the general outlook been so bright.  The flood of beautiful melodies that used to pass high over Pelham, like a flock of geese, giving us only a discordant honking, as evidence of their presence, now alights in our midst as a flock of song birds in spring.  

Our local reception has been so greatly improved by the increased power of the broadcasting stations and the reallocation of wave lengths, that the air is just full of delightful things that one can't really afford to miss.  

We need no longer envy New Jersey with her early records of excellent reception.  We now have the advantage of being far enough away from the big stations to avoid a warped perspective of the ether; and although none of the big fellows jam the air for us, we are near enough to receive with great volume.

This permits us to adjust our sets so that the ordinary and unavoidable electrical disturbances are quite inaudible.

We are particularly fortunate in having our electric light current supplied by so enterprising and public spirited an organization as the Westchester Lighting Co.  We wonder how many people realize the great work that has been done by them in cleaning up the static situation for us.

They maintain a department under the direction of a specially trained radio man of long experience in all phases of the radio game, whose title might well be that of Static Detective.  His job is to hunt down these mysterious buzzes and clicks that are caused by electrical sparks of all kinds as well as trifling power leaks.  

The lighting company, at great expense, has run special heavy wires known as tree wires, along many of our streets bordered by trees.  The insulation of ordinary wire is easily worn through by the gentle rubbing of the branches; and then, tiny little leaks occur which are of no consequence as a power loss, but which make a buzzing noise in the radios over a considerable area.  

And, of course, the greatest joy to many of us, is the fact that the broadcasting station that won the right to become our favorite, by the unusually high quality of its programs no longer casts a feeble and flickering shadow over the Pelhams, but shines down upon us with the intensity of a powerful search light from its new home on Long Island.  

The former 'Will O' the Wisp, WEAF' is now one of our most dependable sources of enjoyment with its generous program starting with the reveille calling us to our 'Setting Up' exercises and our good will message from Cheerio, to brighten the breakfast hour these dark mornings, and ending late at night with the finest of jazz and slumber music.  

The way the Chicago stations have been pounding through, the last few nights, makes us feel that one of these crisp, cold nights, we are going to hear the coast on our loud speaker.  

The perfection of the electric or batteryless [sic] radio that plugs right into your light socket, has brought with it an advantage that is not yet fully appreciated.  Not only does one have nothing to replace except an occasional bulb, but because of the greatly increased power of the electric radio, one is able to get great depth of tone combined with clear articulation.  

You can now dust off the old phonograph and use the turn table to play the new life-like orthophonic records through your radio amplifier and cone speaker.  By means of the volume control provided, the twirl of a knob will swell the music from the softest tinkle of a tiny music box to the full rich tones of a mighty organ or the roar of a symphony orchestra, or an over zealous voice may be tamed to the softest whisper.

As evidence of the appreciativeness of the Pelham audience and its discriminating taste in the selection of their radios, is the unusually high class agencies established by the local dealers.  

In such a small town as Pelham, it is most unusual to find authorized dealers for the manufacturers of such high grade sets as, The Victor, Stromberg-Carlson, Brunswick, Fada, Crosley, Radiola, Atwater Kent, Amrad and many others; practically all the really worth while [sic] in radio.

This would also indicate that we Pelhamites have learned the advantages of buying such an important part of one's home life, from our local dealers; perhaps, after the bitter experience in finding that true saving lies not in the first cost, but in the last."

Source:  Crawford, Morrel T., Reception Improvements Assure The Pelhams Of A Merry Radio Christmas, The Pelham Sun, Dec. 16, 1927, pg. 15, col. 1.  

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